Saturday, October 15

Safe & Enjoyable Cold Weather Motorcycle Riding

Changing Seasons, Changing Gears 

We all know about changing gears on the bike. Up is “up”, and down is “down.” How about that riding skill called changing gears between your ears? Autumn is a great time for riding. Temperatures are moderate and, in many parts of the land, beautiful color tours await. But the change in seasons also brings some different riding conditions that may require some mental gear changes.

As the leaves change and the die-off of summer vegetation occurs, deer, found virtually everywhere in North America, begin to change their feeding habits and move about more. Likewise, it’s their breeding season and is accompanied by an increasing frenzy of activity. In the autumn, in many states, this is compounded by the fact of their being spooked by hunters. The end result is more movement, more activity, and a greater threat to you as a motorcyclist. Change gears and give more thought to the possibility of deer on the road - especially less traveled two-laners and during the post-dawn and pre-sunset hours. The same applies to areas where our even bigger antlered friends (Antelope, Elk, Moose) wander. Cover the brake and give increased heed to those “deer crossing” signs.

Reduced Daylight
Not only are the forest critters in the road more active around dawn and dusk but dawn is arriving later, and dusk much earlier. If you are a year round rider or commuter, chances are increasing that you will be riding in darkness. You may want to make sure that your motorcycle gear (and bike) is up to the challenge. Is your bike’s charging system performing correctly? Are all your lights working? Maybe it’s time to think again about that auxiliary lighting you’ve been looking at all Summer. Do your riding jacket or pants have reflective strips or panels? If not, why? Time to upgrade perhaps? You’ve been riding all year with sunglasses. What about your nighttime vision? Is the prescription for your glasses or contact lenses up to date?
Bridge Freezes Before Road Surface
We all know this sign or its cousin “Icy Conditions.” We’ve all scoffed at it throughout the warm weather riding season. Now it’s time to take serious heed. Especially in late afternoon, or early evening, as air temperatures fall toward the freezing mark, the ground can and does retain a great deal of warmth. But bridges and overpasses, completely surrounded by the chilled air, may not. The absolute worst is in light drizzle with temperatures hovering right around 32 degrees. The roadway may be simply wet. Bridges can be something far more challenging. And steel open grate bridges are the worst. It may be time to just go home! Also keep in mind that during the early morning hours underpasses can be treacherous when the sun warms the countryside but the underpass remains in the shade and overnight icing fails to melt. Caution is advised.

Focus on the Cold
When the temperature dips, we all feel it. Typically at 60mph you can add a 20 degree windchill to the ambient air temperature while riding. That means that you can go from comfy to cold in a hurry. Cold hands, feet or other parts or the body are just as bad as a poorly fitting piece of gear - they cause discomfort which leads to a loss of focus. Wearing the appropriate base layers, mid layers, shell and potentially heated gear will greatly improve your chances for riding fun and safety. Also, take into account elevation changes on longer rides and make an extra effort to check the forecast in the cooler temp ranges as a little rain can produce much more extreme riding conditions quickly, than similar conditions at more reasonable temps.

Wet Leaves
Ice isn’t the only slip and fall hazard. All those beautiful fall colors - the photogenic oranges, reds, and browns that cover the landscape eventually fall to the ground as winter begins to exert its hold. As often as not the leaves fall en mass as a rainstorm drives them from the trees and directly into your roadway! And wet leaves can be as slippery as ice! How do we protect ourselves? With the same methodologies we use to avoid nasty surprises like loose gravel or decreasing radius corners. Remember that it’s always heads up looking as far as possible into the turns and continue to practice what the Motorcycle Safety Foundation calls late apex cornering. You are less likely to run wide, have better visibility into the corner, and there is more margin for error if you simply practice braking a bit earlier, doing all your turning before the apex, and smoothly accelerating after the apex.

Riding into the autumn and into early winter brings some new challenges but they are all manageable if we just mentally change gears and adapt. Do so and you’ll enjoy another great season of motorcycling and you can always beef up your cold weather riding gear as well. Here’s hoping that everyone gets through the fall season without having to take evasive action on freezing or wet leaves to avoid a deer at sunset. Ride safe!

-Jack Broomall

Jack Broomall is a lifelong motorcyclist. His motorcycle adventures have taken him across the North American continent several times, to Alaska, the Alps, the United Kingdom and the Isle of Man. He is a member of the Iron Butt Association and also owns several motorcycle Land Speed Records set at the Bonneville Salt Flats where he is a member of the Bonneville 200 MPH Club. He has been known to do occasional restorations of his favorite bikes from the 1970s and enjoys track days as well.

Take a look at Bell Helmets, an Alpinestars jacket and a Dainese jacket for great winter riding choices. Also, don't miss RevZilla's Cold Weather Riding Gear guide for a multitude of choices for every riding style for winter.


  1. This article was very timely and well considered and provides some excellent food for thought. I do a lot of riding in OK, AR, and MO, which are all heavy deer traffic states; deciduous trees are everywhere and when it rains the leaves are, as the article states, sometimes slippery than ice. A couple of years ago in the city of Tulsa, I was making a u-turn on a less traveled city street and as I started into the end of the turn I crossed over some stacked leaves, the air was dry and sunny, but the leaves underneath were clumped and wet, had I not been going slow and had two friends who were close by not come to help, my Ultra Classic would have been on its side. I learned a couple of lessons that moment: things aren't always as they seem, dry leaves on top doesn't mean they are dry underneath where it counts, drive smart--not dumb. So thanks for the reminder.

  2. Excellent article. I'm from southeast Pa. (deer country) and ride year round. Nicely done.

  3. Great article. I am referring to your blog in my newsletter article on winter riding. Thanks for putting this up.


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